A group of organisations including Tata Steel-led Corus and Swansea University (Wales, UK) are developing a new technology that would convert steel sheets into power generating solar cells.
The technology involves coating steel sheets with photo-sensitive dyes. The technology has significant applications since it is highly efficient even in diffused sunlight. Therefore, countries at higher latitudes or those with limited solar energy resource can generate significant amounts of solar-powered electricity with going for large-scale power plants.
If extended, the technology can find its way to the automobile industry where photo-sensitive dyes can be applied to cars to generate electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for fuel cells. Tata recently invested in an American company, Sun Catalytix, which integrates low-cost catalyst with solar-powered fuel cells to generate power.
The United Kingdom has an estimated four billion square meters of roofs and facades which, if covered with these steel sheets, will meet as much as a third of the country's renewable energy demand by 2020.
The technology gains significance because the process of 'printing' these dyes on the steel sheets has already been mastered by Tata's European subsidiary Corus which is working on a new plant for the production of these steel sheets.
Integrating low-cost solar energy products with the existing buildings is economically sound as there is minimal investment on infrastructure. The costs of land acquisition, procurement of thousands of solar panels and connecting them to the main grid is avoided.
Homeowners can make use of this technology without worrying about acquiring any additional power generating equipment. The homeowners can use a part of the power generated themselves and can supply the surplus to the grid.
Tata has been making significant investments in the renewable energy sector, both in India and abroad. An Indian subsidiary, Tata BP Solar is one of the leading manufacturers of solar panels in India. Tata Power has plans of testing a 2 kw micro wind turbine which can be used in rural homes for power generation. Its power distribution arm, North Delhi Power Limited (NDPL), is working on a feed-in scheme for the residents of Delhi.
A $32 million research center has been established at the Swansea University for the project. The Imperial College of London and universities of Bath, Strathclyde, Glyndr, Bangor and Cardiff are also participating in the project.
The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.